Tips for Selecting the Right Air Quality Monitoring Technology for Your School


Regularly monitoring indoor air quality can help identify problem areas and opportunities for improvement. It is well established that poor indoor air quality negatively impacts schools. Even before the pandemic, nearly half of U.S. schools reported indoor air quality problems that put the health of students and staff at risk. Today, unhealthy indoor air, inadequate ventilation, and chemical exposure from cleaning and maintenance routines continue to present systemic challenges in schools.

Ongoing monitoring of contaminants requires an investment of staff time and financial resources. So, it’s important to carefully consider the unique needs and challenges of your school facilities when selecting technical devices to perform air testing and determine contaminant levels.

Keep the following factors in mind when selecting a technology for monitoring:

  • Accuracy and Reliability: The device should provide accurate readings and be reliable over time. Look for devices that have been independently tested and validated for accuracy.
  • Range of Measurement: Different devices may be designed to measure different ranges of a contaminant concentration. Ensure the chosen device can measure the expected levels across buildings.
  • Ease of Use: Easy to use, intuitive devices that require little technical knowledge can enable more personnel to use the device, reduce errors in readings and recordings, and reduce the amount of time spent on training.
  • Data Logging Capability: If the institution will use the devices for an ongoing monitoring program, choose devices that can log data for later analysis. Some devices can store data internally, while others can transmit data to an external system for storage and analysis.
  • Integration with Other Systems: If the institution plans to integrate the monitors with the HVAC or building management system, ensure the selected device is capable.
  • Maintenance Requirements: Some devices might require regular calibration or other maintenance to ensure accurate readings. Consider the resources available and additional training necessary for maintaining devices.
  • Cost: While the initial investment in purchasing the device is a direct cost, consider all the costs associated with the device during its lifespan. Though a device may initially cost less, it might not provide the accuracy, reliability, or other necessary features, and may require more indirect costs such as time to recalibrate the devices, train employees, or perform routine maintenance.

Also consider how your school can best monitor the common indoor air contaminants, as there are several monitoring and testing options for each:

ContaminantMonitoring Options
Carbon MonoxideCarbon monoxide detectors, which will sound an alarm if they detect a certain level of CO within a certain timeframe. These can be standalone devices or integrated with a building’s security or fire alarm systems.
Mold and MildewMonitoring mold and mildew can involve visual inspection and moisture detection, or the use of handheld devices. Mold tests can also be conducted, which involve taking air or swab samples.
Total Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)VOC detectors, also known as “gas detectors,” can measure the levels of various volatile organic compounds. Some of these devices provide an overall VOC reading, while others can identify and quantify specific compounds.
FormaldehydeAir quality monitors that can specifically detect formaldehyde work by drawing in a sample of air and passing it over a sensor or chemical test strip that changes color or electrical resistance in the presence of formaldehyde.
RadonRadon testing kits are available for both short-term and long-term testing. These kits involve collecting an air sample in a specialized container or onto a specialized material, then sending the sample to a lab for analysis. There are also continuous radon monitors available which can provide a real-time reading of radon levels.
PM2.5 and/or PM10Particulate matter (PM) detectors are used to measure these substances. These detectors work by drawing in air and using a light scattering method to measure the amount and size of particles in the air.
OzoneOzone monitors work by drawing in a sample of air and detecting the presence and concentration of ozone.

Multi-purpose indoor air quality monitors provide a comprehensive solution. These devices can monitor several air quality parameters, including carbon monoxide, VOCs, formaldehyde, radon, PM2.5/PM10, and ozone. Some models also include humidity and temperature sensors, as these factors can influence pollutant levels and occupant comfort.

Professional air quality assessment services can also manage ongoing monitoring. These services may offer a more thorough analysis than what consumer-grade devices can provide because they use high grade equipment that can detect, measure, and record various indoor air pollutants over time. They also interpret the data and provide recommendations for improving air quality.

Healthy Green Schools & Colleges can help you measure the impact of your current program and track your progress toward institutional goals. When you join the HGSC program, you’ll receive live and on-demand training materials, and regular access to a nationwide network of facility professionals from K-12 and higher education institutions. Learn more and join today.